Since the Legislature blew past its adjournment deadline on Sunday, all but one committee meeting scheduled since has been canceled or delayed indefinitely. Now, Gov. Bill Walker is calling on lawmakers to do work on bills for as long as it continues to be in session.
In a letter sent to Senate President Kevin Meyer and House Speaker Mike Chenault on Wednesday, the governor urged them to “use this time wisely,” and suggested they continue work on Medicaid reform and expansion. He also asked the Legislature to make progress on three specific pieces of legislation: a bill advancing an interior energy project, a bill dealing with the state’s child support program, and a bill — known as Erin’s Law — that would establish a sexual abuse prevention program in schools.
In an interview in the Capitol stairwell, Senate President Kevin Meyer said one of the reasons bills were not being heard was that his caucus hopes a deal will be struck on the budget that will allow them to adjourn soon. The Anchorage Republican also said that he wants to limit legislative gamesmanship, and cited an effort by Senate Democrats on Tuesday to roll Erin’s Law into a bill establishing Children’s Day.
“When we did take up a simple bill, people tried to hijack it and put something on there. A lot of mischief happens,” said Meyer. “So, we might be better off, if mischief is going to occur, not to hear any more bills.”
Meyer also said the Senate has met its constitutional obligation to pass an operating budget, and that its agenda for the session is complete. He blamed the adjournment delay on House Democrats, who are trying to secure more education funding at a time when the state faces a four-billion-dollar deficit. But he said if lawmakers cannot make a deal on the budget within the next few days, they may consider holding committee hearings again.
“The Senate feels like we’ve finished our work, and we’re ready to go home,” said Meyer. “Boxes are packed. We feel guilty, too, about getting paid a per diem for being here, because we want to be home and our work is done. But again, we’re kind of held hostage here by other side, because they can’t get an agreement. So, if it looks like that agreement can’t be reached anytime soon, then yeah, let’s just keep working.”
House Speaker Mike Chenault said his caucus would likely restart committee hearings on Thursday. He added that the House has acted on all of the governor’s specific requests, save for Medicaid.
“The House has already passed three of the four bills that the governor’s talked about,” said Chenault.
More than 300 bills have been introduced this legislative session, but just 36 have passed both chambers.
Each day the Legislature goes past its statutory deadline, lawmakers collect an $13,000 in per diem. While Wednesday was Day 93 of the Legislature’s 90-day statutory session, it can meet for up to 121 days, as provided by the Alaska Constitution.